Game of the Month: Sept 2016
CHASE H.Q. - Arcade / Multi-Format
It’s impossible to overstate the appeal that Cars have to the human race. Since the invention of the vehicle that would go on to replace the Horse as primary mode of transport for humanity it’s gone from new technology to main mode of transportation through essential item to own and ended up now as pretty much a life standard for just about every nation on this spinning globe. To put this into context even further, ‘Third World’ countries citizens quite often own a car yet struggle to afford genuinely essential things such as Food, Clothing and Medical care. Work that one out folks…
With such a grasp it’s no small wonder that cars and driving are something that reach out into every other aspect of existence. Videogames are no exception. One could in fact argue (quite successfully) that the medium of interactive gaming has in fact done more for the global appeal of Cars than any other factor in the past 30 years.
Watching them being driven on TV screens or at the local Cinema is one thing, opening up a magazine or browsing online at footage on Youtube is great, but actually having the option to move vehicles outside the price ranges of 99% of the population is quite something else. Videogames are the one medium that take you away from reality into fictional circumstances with tangible methods and true emotional responses.
From the early days of the industry some things have remained eternal in this medium, for nearly 40 years now people have used gaming to destroy Alien armada’s, rescue lost loves from evil beasts in castles, win a tournament in mixed Martial Arts and even zoom around a maze eating power pills and gulping down ghosts. There’s also another thing people have done… driven cars!
The racing genre is one of the most highly respected, competitive and legacy wise, crucial types of videogame that although now is more fixated on graphical realism and handling of real world versions of the vehicles on screen was also once the reason people flocked into Arcade halls. Games such as Out Run made the driving game a core component of the latter Vintage Era and early Golden Era, where else and indeed how else could a 14 year old ever get to experience the feeling of what driving a Ferrari felt like. It wasn’t long however until the games industry took a look at the genre and decided two things… 1.) Car chases rule and 2.) Cops Vs Robbers is always a winner.
For the month of September 2016 RGG wants to take you back to a time when Taito took one car, two cops, a dispatch officer and a host of criminals and asked you to go clean up the streets. It’s way past due to fall back in love again with Chase H.Q.
Exploding into Arcade halls in Europe in October 1988 (rest of the world following the month after) Chase H.Q. Is essentially in it’s purest form, Miami Vice meets Out Run meets every single cop show on TV at the time. 80’s kids were obsessed with videogames and anything that could be described as cool and in that decade, Cop shows were cool. A driving game unlike any other of it’s time it took the sprite scaling look and feel of Sega’s Out Run arcade Smash Hit and added in more intensity, action, road variation and numerous presentation elements to create a story around everything.
The game places you in the role of a Police Officer called Tony Gibson who is part of an elite task force of officers that are called ‘Chase Special Investigation Department’. Along with his partner Raymond Broady they operate a super powerful car that is tasked with pursuing criminals, capturing them and bringing the bad guys to justice. So, two cops hunting criminals… say hello to the most popular 1980’s style of TV Show. Rather than being a game with just levels that follow on from each other Taito’s masterpiece placed another essential component into the mix. Nancy, a dispatch officer is the lady who gives out the essential information regarding the details of the criminal they must catch including tactical observations on the weaknesses of the bad guys vehicles.
With prominent female protagonists in gaming at a premium this was a refreshing and exceptionally important addition to the racing genre. To cap everything off the game also spoke to you with some truly iconic phrases as ‘Let’s go Mr Driver’ and of course ‘This is Nancy from Chase H.Q.’
After some impressive graphical cut sequences introducing the first level to gamers you would begin your hunt a fair distance away from the target. Using driving skills the idea is to gain ground on the fleeing suspect, crashing too many times or taking the wrong turns would result in losing your prey. A timer in the screen simply added to the tension as you had to work out exactly how hard to push everything to get to the enemy vehicle with enough time to actually stop them fleeing. Unlike the other driving games of it’s time though Chase H.Q. didn’t operate on flat roads with left and right turns only, oh no! In addition to the fast pace of the game, oncoming traffic and the timer constantly counting down, your path also went up and down as well as left to right. This was a huge new addition to the genre and really set Taito’s entry apart from the competition.
The action however didn’t stop there, the pressure was ramped up through the roof, when, after catching the escaping vehicle you then had to keep your driving skills finely tuned to avoid other road users but also bash into the back of the criminals car in order to bring down an energy meter which would eventually result in the car coming to a stop so you could arrest them. Every single element of a real life Police car chase of the time replicated in your local Arcade hall for the princely sum of 10p or a quarter.
Completion of the level resulted in more fantastic presentation screens as you see the criminal on the floor being arrested and some text from all parties involved. Considering most driving games simply went from one stage to another with just a text message saying ‘Level 2’ etc this was a huge deal. It added to the realism element of the cop show TV experience in so many ways that for many it’s some of the things most fondly remembered by fans.
With 5 criminals to bring to justice the game itself is very short, exceptionally so, however what’s there is wall to wall awesome and believe me when I say that you will come back for seconds. Tying in to the enormous Miami Vice TV Show mania that gripped both North America and also other territories such as the UK where kids spent most of the time glued to shows created in the USA it really was like taking part in an episode. From the clothing the cops wear to some of the artwork used to promote it the tie-in was not official but was close… very close!
Being a huge success in it’s Arcade form it wasn’t long before the home conversions began, and holy cow did they come. Released on 17 different computers and consoles if you played game in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and owned a machine then you could get your Chase H.Q. fix. The European 8 & 16-bit computer boom saw versions for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC 464, Atari ST and Amiga 500. Japanese MSX and X68000 were taken care of too.
The console giants from both Sega and Nintendo each got versions for Master System, Genesis, NES and Super Nintendo. Although the 16-Bit console versions were wildly different with the Genesis game being based off of the arcade sequel and the Snes version looking completely different with an internal car view instead of external. Even gamers on the go got Game Gear and Gameboy ports. The FM Towns Marty also had a home conversion of Chase H.Q. and so did the ever amazing TurboGrafx-16.
Obviously versions for the 16-Bit systems were closer in look and feel to the Arcade stunner but one version on the 8-Bit format especially blew peoples minds at the time. The humble ZX Spectrum not only had a version that perfectly recreated the game (albeit in monochrome colours) but it also contained the speech from the Arcade in sampled form. Receiving huge scores from the games press of the time it walked in pretty much every Sinclair gamers collections. Published by Ocean it was just another in a long line of outstanding arcade conversions from one of the UK’s most impressive publishers of the time.
Absolutely essential to the evolution of the driving genre from just a racing experience to a racing/story telling experience this Taito masterpiece of design was not only a breath of fresh air when it first arrived but it’s also gone ion to influence numerous other games all trying to do more than just put a vehicle on a track and letting you press accelerate. It’s simple in concept but ingenious in execution and above all else… It’s so much fun. Maybe only for a short while but lifespan doesn’t determine a classic, emotional and legacy impact does that and in this regard Chase H.Q. stands on that winners podium spraying champagne over an adoring crowd. Mixing influences from internal and external mediums it fused everything that kids and teenagers especially, loved during the decade. Box art for the home conversions in Europe simply screamed Miami Vice.
Videogames like Chase H.Q. are special, not just because they are superbly made or leave an enduring legacy for an entire industry but because it’s games like this that can take someone who may find the subject matter uninteresting and makes them a believer. A car racing game that’s not just about the car, the driving element or the notion of being able to control an automobile way outside the average person’s budget. It takes the one thing that is globally recognised as a lifestyle necessity and removes the practicalities of it all and substitutes technicality for an adrenaline shot to the heart.
Be a cop, chase criminals, in a fast car, inside a time limit and look cool doing it. ‘In the Air tonight’ and a white suit jacket are of course purely optional…